Night trains: Much more, much wider

Press release from Back-on-Track, European network to promote cross-border and night trains

The todays press conference on enhanced cooperation between DB (Germany), ÖBB (Austria), SBB (Switzerland) and SNCF (France) introduced an expansion of ÖBB’s NightJet network of night trains, showing the right way forward when it comes to alternatives to flying in Europe. Modern night trains can replace many flights within the range of 500 to 1.500 km, as passengers can sleep while being transported in an environmentally friendly way. Since its founding in 2015, Back on Track has advocated for this transport solution: Night trains are necessary elements in a 24-hour European train network.

Despite our joy at the good intentions and strong ambitions demonstrated at today’s press conference, there is a strong need for the initiative to grow in volume and spread to more regions in Europe.

The cooperation must not be exclusive to those who arranged the press conference. Partners who want to contribute to the future network of night trains must have the option to do so. The EU as a supranational actor can contribute with investments and coordination; but we also call for the participation of railway operators from smaller states, and of private operators who have shown the ability and willingness to introduce their own night train routes.

The regions that also need to be included in concrete plans for new night train services are:

  • The Iberian Peninsula; with Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona
  • Scandinavia; with Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo
  • Eastern Europe; with Belgrade, Budapest and Bucharest

We very much hope that tomorrow’s announcement by the European Commission on “Green Mobility” will show that the EU is a worthy and dedicated partner in the necessary development of Europe’s railways and night trains as a follow-up to what was presented today.

Contact:

Joachim Holstein (DE), joachim.holstein@mac.com

Nicolas Forien (FR), nicolasforien@yahoo.fr

Poul Kattler (DK), poul@kattler.dk

Belgium Back-on-Track, belgium@back-on-track.eu

>> Pick the press release as pdf (English)

>> Watch the press conference here (German):
>> See the German ministers press release

This is the last slide from the presentation today (or pick the slide here):

Almost two thirds (!) support a ban of short haul flights

There is an extremely interesting new poll by the “EUPinions” Institute (which seems rather neo-liberal, certainly no eco-leftist propaganda…) on the ideas of Europeans on climate protection. Some of the data is really interesting for trains:

Almost two thirds (!) support a ban (not just higher taxes!) of short haul flights – with an far reaching definitition of “short”: We would not have dared to set a 12 hour train trip as the limit here…

It seems that we have a majority of people in Europe behind us if we demand a ban on short-haul flights – which we would not have expected. Let’s go for it!

The questions in the survey were designed by the research team of Europe’s Stories, a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at the European Studies Centre, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, in consultation with the experts of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s eupinions survey. The poll was conducted between September 7th and September 28th 2020 as part of the quarterly eupinions wave, using their usual methodology. In all 27 EU member states and the United Kingdom, over 13,000 respondents between the ages of 16 and 69 were surveyed.

>> Look at the report

Made by Andi!? TEE 2.0

How the German Minister of Transport reinvents the sleeping car and the trans-European railway

This is a translation of the original interview in NachDenkSeiten, and published with permission from this on-line magazine.

Crazy times: Practically out of nowhere, Andreas Scheuer discovered the advantages of an integrated European rail transport system for himself – with “fast through connections”, regular-interval timetables and night trains. The Federal Minister of Transport presented corresponding business games to his EU colleagues the week before. For Joachim Holstein, the concept appears to be copied from passenger associations. The railway activist meets the change of heart of the CSU “car man” with a mixture of confidence and scepticism. Even nonsense projects like Stuttgart 21 are still on the government agenda, he remarks in an interview with NachDenkSeiten. Ralf Wurzbacher spoke with him. 

About the person

Joachim Holstein, born in 1960, was a night train attendant with Deutsche Bahn until the state-owned company withdrew the “City Night Line” type of train from service at the end of 2016, in order to offer only thinned-out night transport in seating carriages from then on. Holstein is involved in various rail and passenger initiatives, including “Pro Bahn”, “Bürgerbahn statt Börsenbahn” and the European “Back on Track” network, which is specifically committed to the establishment and expansion of cross-border night train services. (https://back-on-track.eu)

Interview

Mr Holstein, on Monday of the previous week, Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) slipped into a role that was untypical for him: as the mastermind of a trans-European railway. He presented corresponding business games at a “rail summit” with the participation of his EU colleagues as well as representatives of the EU Commission and various railway companies. The core of the plans is the revival of the Trans-Europ-Express (TEE), which was discontinued more than 30 years ago, and which operated between the states of the European Economic Community (EEC) as well as Austria and Switzerland from 1957 to 1987. This was the model for the future high-speed and night trains to provide “fast through connections” to many major cities. Were you too amazed by all this?

Oh yes, because it is more than strange that Mr Scheuer suddenly changes from brakeman to pioneer. So far, the Federal Government and Deutsche Bahn have responded with rejection to every initiative to improve European rail transport. Most recently, just a few weeks ago, when the Swedish and Danish governments presented their concept for night trains from Stockholm to Hamburg-Berlin and from Malmö to Brussels, combined with start-up financing. German government immediately made it clear that there would be no start-up aid in Germany. They are spending billions on Lufthansa and the car industry, but not a cent on European trains.

People are capable of change

That’s for sure! In any case, after three months of the Council Presidency, a concept suddenly appears which reads like “Rail for all”, “Back on Track” and so on. We have been calling for cooperation instead of competition from the state railways, a European vehicle pool and a customer-friendly booking platform for rail travel from Narvik to Lisbon and from Glasgow to Athens for years! If you look at the night train connections known as “EuroNight” in the Scheuer paper and add to this the “Lunaliner” night train network presented by “Bahn für alle” and “Bürgerbahn statt Börsenbahn” in 2016, the similarities are astounding.

Nevertheless, the press material of his ministry states that the concept is based on Scheuer’s “initiative” …

So vanity probably won out over honesty. Usually well-informed sources from the ministry or the DB group – we always call them “Max Mole” – report that Jean-Pierre Farandou, who was appointed head of the French state railway SNCF last year, was the driving force behind the concept during his time there, when he was responsible for international business. Farandou is a railwayman from the ground up, something that is no longer known in the Berlin railway tower. And the media might have noticed during the presentation that the slides of the consulting agency are from January 2020, so it’s not a fluffy rush as a reaction to corona measures, but there’s more behind it.

But should the real originator or originators simply put up with the fact that the „Car Guy” Scheuer, of all people, is adorned with their feathers?

During the live streams of Scheuer’s press briefing before and the press conference afterwards, someone should have jumped out of the scenery every two minutes and asked: “Who invented it? Imagine that: Scheuer not only presented the TEE concept as a German idea, but also called Germany the best railway country and quasi the inventor of the regular interval timetable. So if I were Swiss, Dutch or Austrian …

The paper reads somewhat differently. At least it admits that other countries are already using the planning methods that are now being projected and already have a high-frequency network of long-distance trains. After all, we only have this on a few lines, but since the abolition of the Interregios it is no longer available overall.

I do not know what happened at the conference itself, which was not transmitted. But I assume that everything was clarified in advance to such an extent that all EU transport ministers were able to support the concept. Many of them have been annoyed for years with Germany as a brakeman, whether it be Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands or Austria. Now, when Scheuer plays the hero at his home game, they might say to themselves: “Well, if it helps.”

And has it helped? Apart from the question of copyright: How did you like the content of Scheuer’s lecture?

Mostly good – because most of it meets the requirements of railway initiatives. It is a recognised fact that transfer-free connections are better than multiple transfers with scarce connections. The same applies to the fact that crazy hurdles caused by different standards in different countries have to be removed – in my car I don’t have to change tyres at the border and buy a different warning triangle. And we have been preaching for years that night trains can travel 2,000 kilometres and thus replace not only short but also medium-haul flights.

So there is nothing to complain about?

Well, for many things I have to say: you could have done all this years ago. – That has happened before, and the German government and DB have just ruined it. – One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and a single TEE per day on long-haul routes doesn’t make a regular service. This would require additional TEEs at least every two hours, even in sections.

Without going into too much detail: It is true that a large part can be implemented “practically immediately”, i.e. with the next timetable change that has not yet been planned through. I only discovered one serious mistake: The night train from Amsterdam to Venice and Genoa is to be put on the fast track between Cologne and Frankfurt, which is technically impossible.  Only the special ICE3, where every second axle is driven, can manage this (steep) roller coaster line.

Are there any other horsefeet?

Scheuer clearly waves with the magic wand that the TEE concept in its second stage would only be possible if major projects such as Stuttgart 21, the Fehmarnbelt tunnel and a Tempo-300 line between Hanover and Bielefeld were built, and without complaints from the citizens. As in the discussion about the “Germany Tact”, the suspicion arises that a concept that is perceived as positive by people is to be misused as a lever to push through useless or even harmful construction projects – and the annoying citizen protests are to be dealt with at the same time. Please not like this!

How then?

In a recent NDR report, it was shown very clearly that citizens do not want to be obstructors, but creators. For the Hanover-Bielefeld link there was a route concept agreed between regional politicians and citizens’ initiatives, but this was rejected by Berlin. And take Stuttgart 21: Interested companies, media houses and politicians are happy to put the symbolic yucky beetle in the foreground – because they do not want to talk about the destruction of railway infrastructure, the deterioration of connections and the fire-dangerous construction.

So I see demagogy coming towards us according to the principle: “Yes, if you want to have European trains, then you have to …”. I would then say: yes, then we must get rid of the many small bottlenecks. Then we need a few switches here, like in Frankfurt, a second overhead line there, like in Strasbourg, so that normal ICE trains can also go there, or passing tracks – all more sensible, cheaper and much more efficient than the orgies in concrete and the celebration of new top speeds beyond 250 km/h.

The Federal Administrative Court (BVG) in Leipzig is currently hearing several lawsuits by environmentalists against the planned Fehmarnbelt crossing. In the EU planning games for a “trans-European long-distance network” (TEN-T), the megaproject represents “an essential element of the central north-south axis between Scandinavia and Central Europe“. Are the fine sayings about borderless rail travel by day and night just a can opener for gigantism and moneymaking?

You have to be suspicious of that. After all, we have seen in many places how figures and forecasts have been artfully juggled in order to make construction projects appear sensible which, when viewed correctly, are useless or even harmful. This ranges from the 2nd main line of the Munich S-Bahn via Stuttgart 21 and the Frankfurt city tunnel to the Thüringer-Wald underground, i.e. the ICE line Erfurt-Nuremberg. Fictitious goods train traffic has been included to make it appear economical. And everywhere better alternatives were ignored.

And this is repeated in the Fehmarnbelt?

It’s not exactly as if the capacities there were not sufficient, there was only one train every four hours and the ferries easily managed the car and truck traffic. The reason given for crossing the Belt is “expected demand” – but this alleged demand is the additional traffic induced by new construction. With the Fehmarn tunnel comes the fact that the ferry operators do not give up without a fight and have a weighty argument on their side: The truck drivers can take their rest on board. This is not possible in the tunnel. And with the railways, trains can already pass through from Lapland to southern Italy, they have to run via Funen and Jutland. The biggest bottleneck there is the Rendsburg high bridge, with a six-kilometre diversion, sometimes at a leisurely pace. So where does that leave the tunnel project and the upgrading of the other routes? Less concrete, less profit, less interest than the Belt?

After all, the project has only partly grown on German dung …

And the fact that the Scandinavian side is obviously wildly determined to build the tunnel is of course a comfortable situation for the German side. But they were ready to negotiate a new line south of Puttgarden. The single-track Fehmarnsund Bridge is a listed building, and Baltic seaside resorts are to be disconnected from the railway for a new track along the Lübeck-Oldenburg motorway.

And Hamburg’s main railway station would be even more congested than it already is because the connecting curve to the south is only single-track and the line from Lübeck to Lüneburg with a branch towards Berlin is single-track and not electrified. An extension – the first since 1878! – was not included in the Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan 2030 “because of high investment costs”. The new TEE concept therefore also envisages the TEE Stockholm-Berlin-Munich and the EuroNight Stockholm-Berlin-Budapest from Lübeck via Bad Kleinen and Schwerin. However, this still requires the laying of an overhead line and the construction of a connecting curve in Bad Kleinen. It is the usual: A prestige project here – a lot of patchwork there. Instead of approaching an infrastructure as an overall plan, as Switzerland does.

After all, Switzerland is regarded as the great model of a functioning interval traffic system. How far away from this ideal is the promised “Deutschland-Takt”, which according to the German government aims to double passenger numbers by 2030?

Approximately as far as the German telephone network from a nationwide broadband expansion, which is the responsibility of the same ministry. But polemics aside and to cut a long story short: For a nationwide Integral Timetable (ITF), many platform edges and independent access tracks are needed, and for a doubling of the number of passengers, many additional trains and personnel are needed. Unfortunately, Germany is far from achieving this.

Do you have an example of this?

The S21-critical “Engineers 22” are a good place to read up on the subject.

If you look at the “timetable rosette” that Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hesse – a member of “Bürgerbahn statt Börsenbahn” – has drawn up on the basis of the BMVI target timetable 2030 for Stuttgart, you can see that the opposite of an ITF is planned here, given the fairly even distribution of arrivals and departures over the 60 minutes. This is what happens when decisions are made without any sense or reason, but with political bias and sympathy for tunnel boring machine manufacturers and construction companies. Switzerland, on the other hand, has planned the other way around: There, the timetable was first drawn up and then it was analysed where which construction measures were necessary to achieve the travel times between the nodes that would make sense for an ITF.

They say that you learn from your mistakes. So shouldn’t the German government, which has been the same for seven years, have a lot of room for improvement in terms of rail policy?

A learning process actually involves identifying and naming mistakes. But there is a huge lack of this, from railway privatisation to going public and the unreasonable construction projects to night trains. As is well known, these were abolished against our better judgment. At the beginning of 2015, Ulrich Homburg, the railway board member responsible for passenger transport at the time, told the Bundestag transport committee about night trains: “Stable demand situation. The trains are well booked”. He thus admitted that the railway had lied to the public – and to its owner – with its years of talk of allegedly declining demand and a dying niche. Figures were available which proved the opposite, and the changes to the night train concept put into effect by DB 2015 even led to an increase in passenger numbers of over ten percent in 2016, in some areas of over 50 percent. Every additional car that DB built into the night trains was booked out in no time at all and permanently!

Despite this, the division came to an end in December 2016. Ronald Pofalla, member of the Board of Management of Deutsche Bahn, explained the reasoning at the time: “Night trains are totally uneconomical”

You have to imagine in 2014, Deutsche Bahn asked its night train customers what they would do if night trains did not exist. Three quarters said, fly, drive a car, not travel at all. Only one quarter wanted to or could change to the ICE. In its “target group analysis” at the time, the railways defamed travellers who wanted to travel in an environmentally friendly way or were not allowed to fly for medical reasons as “flight phobics and railway nostalgics”. At the same time, the most solvent and time-sensitive clientele – long-distance commuters, business travellers, scientists and politicians – was completely ignored. Of course, they did not switch to the night-time ICE trains to travel to meetings or lectures, but they were happy if their route was one of those on which the Austrian Federal Railways continued to operate with the rolling stock purchased from DB. Otherwise, they were gone as customers. The owner would have had to give a management that operates in such a way against its customers and its client much earlier. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” once commented on this with the sentence: “So stupid to simply let the board of directors work would not be a private investor.

What gives you hope that something like sense and reason will now come into railway policy?

Times have changed. In the meantime, ÖBB is desperately looking for used vehicles to cover its needs and to expand its network until its new fleet is put on the rails. The Swiss SBB wants to rent sleeping and couchette cars, private operators are building a night train from Sylt to the Alps within weeks and since Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future there have been many articles in the media about night trains that were really researched instead of just printing the DB-voice. I am sure that no Mr Pofalla would be able to stand up today and declare the night trains to be over.

But if a Mr. Scheuer, of all people, were to stand up and suddenly announce the comeback of the night trains, surely there would be some remaining doubts?

Let’s wait and see. In the midst of the colleagues there was already a sarcastic remark in 2016 that after five or ten years some highly paid external consultants would recommend a totally innovative concept to DB: sleeping on the train! And it took less than four years for the German government to want to introduce night trains again. But the construction is of course exciting, because a joint operating company for these international trains is proposed, which should be open to other railway companies. This is already going in the direction of the “United Railways of Europe”, as Bernhard Knierim and Winfried Wolf outlined in their book “Abgefahren” (“Departed”), which was published about a year ago.

What would be the advantages?

These European trains are to be promoted by the EU, because higher requirements are imposed on rolling stock approved for several power and signalling systems than on rolling stock that runs in only one country. However, this would also allow higher volumes to be produced economically, because then, for example, Danish and Spanish railways would be able to order the same type of EU sleeping car as German and Dutch railways. The other countries, the other railways, the demands of the environmental movement and the persistent work of large and small organisations – “Back on Track” has been to Brussels several times, has organised a number of conferences with railway representatives, politicians and activists and organised actions in half of Europe – have, so to speak, put the previous brakemen under such pressure that they are now suddenly committed to promoting Europe-wide rail transport.

We must now ensure that this does not remain just fine words and sketches on paper, but that this project is taken forward and expanded. Because, as I said, one TEE per day and direction does not yet make any regular service and there is still a long way to go before we have a nationwide night train network and a simple booking system.

EU transport ministers meet to discuss improvements on trains

German federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer invited the fellow EU Transport Ministers to a special meeting Monday, September 21. The meeting continued the train positive initiative, originated from the Dutch government half a year ago. A formal council meeting is yet to come.

In an interview with the “Berliner Morgenpost”, Andreas Scheuer stated that he intends to propose a network of high-speed trains and night trains known as “TransEuropExpress 2.0” at this meeting. Fortunately this is not an ‘utopia’ vision, but a rather practical approach to faster and better inter-EU train services, both day and night.

He say among other things: Within the framework of the German EU Council Presidency, I will present our concept for a modern cross-border rail transport together with my EU colleagues, the EU Commission and railroad companies. The TransEuropExpress (TEE) 2.0 project will make Europe more climate-friendly.

We want to connect Europe’s major cities better with high-speed trains and night trains. It is all about fast and continuous train connections. What is needed are trains that are comfortably equipped and can be used across borders. We need an EU funding program for this. We also need to set up a digital booking platform through which European rail connections can be booked.

A network for high-speed and night train services could be in place by 2025.

>> Read Mr. Scheuers presentation in English.

Report shall advice upon Cross-border night trains

During the same period of time DG-MOVE (the EU-Commissions department of transportation) prepared a proces on behalf of the EU-Parliament to have a report made of Revitalisation of Cross-border Night Trains.

They received 13 tenders. The London based consultancy company Steer Davies and Gleeve was awarded as contractor.

>> Read about the EU decision here

Action against short-haul flights – at four German airports

“Exit at the last second”

Climate activists protest against short-haul flights

Airplanes were unable to take off at several airports on Monday – climate activists from Extinction Rebellion wanted to attach themselves to planes with superglue or get out before take-off. They were verbally harassed by passengers.

Activists of the climate protection movement Extinction Rebellion protested against domestic air traffic at several airports on Monday. The actions in Munich, Lübeck, Berlin and Düsseldorf were intended to draw attention to the fact that short-haul flights make a “significant contribution” to Germany’s “harmful CO2 footprint”, the alliance said. According to the Lübeck police headquarters, 18 people were taken into custody there until Monday morning.

Extinction Rebellion spoke of “targeted and peaceful actions” at four German airports. “We have no choice but to peacefully advocate immediate measures to protect the climate,” said Susanne Egli, marine biologist and part of the Extinction Rebellion local group in Munich.

One of the activists first boarded a plane at Düsseldorf Airport, but then demanded to be allowed to disembark immediately before take-off. A video, published by Extinction Rebellion, shows the action. In the video, the flight crew announces over the loudspeakers that the plane has to return to its starting position to let the man get off.

In the video you can hear how other passengers insult the activist and ask him to sit down again. On Twitter, too, many disparaging comments gathered under the video.

Extinction Rebellion argues that leading scientists have predicted “that the Earth is likely to warm to over three degrees by the end of the century,” said spokeswoman Egli. “Our society as we know it now will collapse under this,” she warned. The climate protection activists described it as “a duty to the coming generations to do everything possible and necessary now, in 2020, to do something about it, such as specifically disrupting air traffic”.

In Lübeck, where scheduled flight operations resumed on Monday for the first time in years, five people tried to climb a ladder over the outer fence of the airport grounds early Monday morning, according to police reports. Police forces had been able to prevent this.

Fixed with superglue
Another 15 people were thus able to get through the fence at another location and were taken into custody by police forces on the apron. Three of them tried to fix themselves with superglue, the police explained. This could also have been “prevented in time“.

Three activists reportedly had tickets for a flight to Munich. One passenger had tried to fix himself to the plane to Munich with superglue, the officials further announced. This could be prevented by a passenger as well as the police officers present and the airport security service.

The man was therefore also taken into custody. According to the police, the 18 arrested men are now facing preliminary proceedings. Seven of them were released after their personal details were established.

>> See the report from German Spiegel

FLYING SHAME? WE NEED TRAIN PRIDE!

The following article by Bernhard Knierim appeared in the German weekly “Der Freitag” issue 31/2020. It has been translated by Trevor Garrod.

Future mobility based on Europe-wide rail network with emphasis on night trains.

A super-train at 350km per hour from Lisbon to Helsinki – a new project as a cure for the climate, as Michael Jaeger recently demanded (DF 28/2020). This is an appropriate critical look at such a promise.

Firstly, the building of high speed lines itself requires an immense amount of energy and concrete, which means a gigantic advance of CO2 and in addition is very destructive for the natural world, even if far less then new motorways. Even if such a European silk road tempted large numbers of people from plane to train, it would take many years to compensate for this damage and the maintenance of such a route would remain costly. The realisation of this megaproject would also take many years, probably decades. Rail Baltica, the section of the proposed line from Warsaw to Helsinki, has been planned since 1994, but its realisation up to now is in the stars. As good as nothing has been constructed – after 26 years. We no longer have such an amount of time, in view of the acute climate crisis.

However, travel at 350kph is anything but climate-friendly. It is known that the energy consumption increases exponentially with the speed – but usage in no way increases likewise. The highest speeds only cut journey times by minutes. Greater gains of time can only be realised when the trains travel for long distances non-stop.

That has a further consequence. in that many people along the route outside the capital cities are disconnected.  Rail as a mere point-to-point link between metropolitan areas, like the aircraft, is a false comparison.  It is only really useful as a network of well tuned across the whole country, as indeed is proposed by the “Deutschlandtakt” (even interval service for all of Germany).

For that there is hardly any sense  in speeds of over 250kph in densely populated central Europe. Instead, the right approach is to optimise the network in a way that Swiss transport planners have honed to perfection. Often a convenient journey with good connections is more valuable than top speeds on specific sections of track. Furthermore, sharing a super high speed line with freight traffic is barely credible; the speeds and demands on the track differ too much. Each new high speed line in Germany is made to look worth the money by the claim that it can be used by freight trains. But the 10 billion euro new line from Halle and Leipzig via Erfurt to Nuremberg is not the only such route on which, up to now, no freight train has travelled.

This is in no way special pleading against new or improved rail links. In many places in Europe, especially across national borders, they are urgently needed. Targeted filling of gaps or increased line speeds in the right places can do a lot to optimise the existing rail network and make connections more attractive. But a completely new line which is not integrated  in the existing network has limited usefulness. For fare too long, especially in Germany, new high speed lines have been planned without integration in the existing overall network and a slow rethink is only just beginning. We should not repeat this mistake at European level.

Instead, and especially for long stretches of route, going back to tried and tested technology is helpful. With night trains it is also possible, without costly new lines, to cover distances of over 1000km over night, and indeed on the existing network which fortunately in Europe is still very dense. Where fast lines already exist,  significantly longer distances can also be covered. In this way the time taken for the passenger,  even without high speed, is much less than in daytime trains, because one is on the move comfortably asleep. Even at 350 kph. a journey right across Europe in future would not take much longer than most people would like to spend  sitting in a train.

Instead, what is more pleasant than, after having had a good night’s sleep and breakfast, arriving in a new city. in this respect rail even has an advantage over air, when one has to get up in the middle of the night  to start a journey.

Slowing down is enriching
Unfortunately, many European railways, with Deutsche Bahn AG at their head,  have withdrawn from the night train market in recent years because they could not compete with subsidised low-cost airlines and because for many the sleeping car had an old-fashioned image – unjustly so.

Nevertheless, there is at present a small renaissance and some new links. With appropriate support, a new night train network could be built up within a few years, and  all of Europe, not just for a few metropolitan areas, could be connected up in a convenient and climate-friendly manner. In the “Lunaliner” project, activists already four years ago drafted a plan for a night train network across Europe, with many direct links
there are also ideas for new trains which are suitable for changed journey habits and can make overnight travel even more convenient; in this field  the Austrian Federal Railways are way out ahead as the largest night train operator in Europe. Even today rail is ahead of the low-cost airlines in terms of convenience – from the queues and security checks at airports to the aircraft in which, despite the danger of corona infections,  travellers are densely packed together.  A somewhat slower pace could only be an enrichment in this respect.

Those of us who want to gain more people to use rail need not only new routes but also political action. The construction of new lines does not in itself create a network of useable train links. Booking of international train tickets nowadays is most time-consuming and, in comparison to air, often expensive. Alongside rail improvements, dismantling the privileges of the airline industry is also necessary.

United Railways of Europe
First of all, the massive tax advantages .for air travel must be abolished. Why is air travel exempt from kerosene tax, only paying a small proportion of the CO2 certification and not even liable  to Value Added Tax on cropss-border flights? Furthermore, why are working conditions accepted which often amount to exploitation?

As a good alternative we need, in the final analysis, a return to a real Europe-wide network of convenient and fast  international daytime and night trains, integrated with ferries where there is no overland connection.  The aim everywhere must be an attractive  climate-friendly alternative to plying. To this end, the EU should give financial support to the development of new links and investment in new rolling stock and at the same time promote co-operation between railways in cross-border travel.

Would not the “United Railways of Europe”, with the promise of Europe-wide mobility by rail, be a terrific aim?  It needs to be coupled with  a Europe-wide unified booking system so that the purchase of rail tickets in future can be at least as simple as it is today on the airlines. Flight-shame is gradually spreading from Sweden to the rest of Europe. What is lacking is rail pride. A lot remains to be done in this respect, and the money and energy  would be better spent towards this goal than  for a new megaproject.

Bernhard Knierim

The renaissance of night trains in France is on its way!

During his speech for the French national day, on July 14th, president Emmanuel Macron announced his priorities for the coming years. Among them, a “massive plan” for rail freight, for the redevelopment of overnight trains and for small rural railway lines.

Later, the French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari announced that, as a first step, two night train routes will be relaunched by 2022 : these will be Paris to Nice and Paris to Tarbes (in the South-West). In the meanwhile, the rolling stock for the remaining lines from Paris to Briançon and Rodez/Toulouse/Latour-de-Carol/Portbou will be refurbished. For the moment, we do not have any precise informations about the restart of Paris-Nice and Paris-Tarbes, so we do not know which rolling stock will be used, if the trains will be daily, which operator will run these trains, if they will run attached to the already existing night trains, or if completely new trains will be created (which, for Paris-Tarbes, would allow for more capacity)… etc.

From April 2018

We will soon know more about all these details, when the French government will publish its report about the development of night trains, wich is expected to be released by the end of this summer. This report will detail the long-term stategy for night trains, possibly including perspectives for reopening of more lines in the coming decade, both national and international. So the reopening of Paris-Nice and Paris-Tarbes is only a first step forward: Maybe this is what can be done on the short run using the existing old rolling stock which will be refurbished, and a possible wider development will have to wait a few more years for the construction of new rolling stock.

The transport minister says he has “high ambitions for night trains”, so we hope that the mentioned report will be quite positive. We are trying to encourage this ambition by presenting our vision of what could be a possible network of national and international night trains in France in 2030. We have published a map of national lines here, and we will very soon publish an other map showing international connections.

We are calling for a 1.5 billion € investment in new night rolling stock, which would allow to develop a dense network of 15 national lines and 15 international lines.

The governement is now discussing with the Regions to know their interest in new night train services, and the choices will be made in the coming weeks. In late August, the governement will detail its recovery plan so we will likely know more at that moment… stay tuned !

A small selection of the press coverage:

https://traintracks.eu/nachtzug-ausbau-frankreich/?fbclid=IwAR3PiosiTLtD9_lzXX2DxyF-1IFrLRli_5EGz9-aRE8f_eK8K-QWB37R–s

https://www.lepoint.fr/economie/emmanuel-macron-leve-le-voile-sur-son-plan-de-relance-a-100-milliards-14-07-2020-2384322_28.php#

https://www.liberation.fr/france/2020/07/14/finalement-macron-veut-faire-preferer-le-train_1794232

German transport policy has consistently favored motorism

From the frontpage of the report

Germany, like the rest of Europe, has a transport sector where CO2 emissions are steadily rising and where politicians and authorities do not seem to be able to come together to do something about it.

Germany’s great love relationship with motorists and the automotive industry since World War II is reflected in a unique distortion of costs in the transport sector. The railways are disadvantaged, pay a green fee, pay high infrastructure charges and only recently have VAT been reduced.

The automotive industry has been able to rely on politicians to be friendly and compliant, so even moderate EU political ambitions on CO2 emissions reductions have been delayed – and covered by fraud cases. And the industry has automatically been forgiven.

A policy paper from Germanwatch by Lena Donat explains very well these circumstances. The report points to the following solutions:

  • Short term: Stop public investment on new federal highways, additional highway lanes, highway-like roads and bypasses
  • Prioritise railway infrastructure, both regional and long-distance, especially projects that are key for implementing the nationwide integrated regular interval timetable (‘Deutschland-Takt’) and cross-boundary connections
  • Revise Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan, and undertake a 1.5°C check. Include reduction of road passenger and freight transport as a strategic target in of the Plan
  • Plan infrastructure based on coordinated timetable intervals (‘fahrplanorientierte Infrastrukturplanung’

>> Get the report yourself

Stop Aviation Bailouts – Support trains as an alternative to flying!

Letter to the respective National governments before the upcoming EU meeting.

The French government’s plan to support the airline industry with 15 billion euro threatens the Paris Agreement and should be rejected. Every European country and the EU must use the opportunity to support climate friendly initiatives like international night trains.

This is the message from rail activists all over Europe in the Back on Track network. 

Aviation is responsible for a growing global climate impact. There is a lot of greenwashing talk about sustainable flights, but in reality no technical solutions are available to reach the Paris agreement with the amount of air traffic we had before the Corona crisis. For example, there is not enough sustainable bioenergy available and also not enough electricity to produce hydrogen for all air traffic globally. Airplanes not only consume much more energy than any other means of transport, but they are also more dependent on high energy density than any other vehicles, and even carbon-neutral fuels have significant climate impact because of specific effects of emissions in the high atmosphere.

The crisis has shown that many of the flights can be avoided through digital meetings. It made many people realise that weekend flights to New York or to the beaches in Thailand are no necessity.  

If Governments and the EU consider support is justified for air transport under certain conditions, this must be limited to unavoidable flights. Moreover, it must be combined with the introduction of taxes on flights. No airlines should be supported on distances where you can reach the destination by train in four hours or less. The Austrian government agreement proposing a three hour limit is a good step in this direction.

To encourage environmentally friendly travel in European night trains for distances up to 12 hours is a good solution. With modern night trains you can have dinner, go to bed and reach your destination in another European country in the morning with very low climate impact.

State money and any EU package aimed at starting up the economy after Corona should be focused on climate friendly alternatives, and investments in rail and night trains is one good solution. In order to save air transport workers from unemployment, retraining for work in the railway or urban transport industry is a more sustainable solution than postponing the inevitable decrease of air transport for some years.

As aviation pays almost no taxes, it is not fair to save the aviation industry with taxpayers money. This gives aviation an unfair advantage over lower emission modes of transport. Tax exemptions therefore must be stopped: airlines must be obliged to pay a tax on kerosene or a CO2-tax; and instead of Air Miles programmes which incentivise air travel, fair and progressive levies on frequent flying must be put in place.

It is important to use the current unintended pause in aviation for building a climate-safe transport sector and creating resilience for future crises.

Statement agreed by Back on Track representatives in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain, Belgium and The Netherlands. 

>> Pick up the pdf-version of this press release (incl. contact info)

Dutch initiative to support long distance trains gets full EU support

The European Commission said on Wednesday (3rd of June) that train travel should be given special attention in 2021 as part of the EU executive’s Green Deal environmental agenda, suggesting that next year should be the ‘European Year of Rail’.

A new agenda should “offer the legal […] framework for attractive alternatives to make railway become an attractive alternative in distances in which it is not currently competitive”, the letter adds. The idea is to agree on a calendar of milestones within 12 months.

Issues such as complex ticket buying systems for multi-leg journeys with different companies should be addressed by digital solutions, it adds. Frequent rail travellers have long called for an online platform similar to ‘Skyscanner’ to be set up, perhaps by the EU.

The ministers also insist that international services can increase their share of passenger numbers in the 300-800 km category, suggesting that rail will be taking the fight to short-haul flights, which generally fall under the 1,000km mark.

EU heads of state and government are due to meet virtually on 19 June for “thorough preparation” ahead of their next meeting, which could be held physically for the first time since the pandemic hit Europe.

The initiative originates from the Dutch Government within the EU-Council, and you can read their letter to Commissioner Adina Válean dated 2.6. here.

The initiative was earlier mentioned here on this website here. Here you will see, that night trains are also clearly mentioned.

>> The story was covered by Euractiv here.